Friday, May 24, 2013

More Friedman: The Problem With Leadership

In yesterday's post to this blog I mentioned that I am reading Edwin Friedman's Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix. In his introduction, "The Problem With Leadership," Friedman notes four major similarities in the thinking and functioning that he sees as going to the heart of the problems we face at every level of society today, from families to major institutions. These are:
1.  A regressive, counter-evolutionary trend in which the most dependent members of any organization set the agendas and where adaptation is constantly toward weakness rather than strength.
2. A devaluation of the process of individuation so that leaders tend to rely more on expertise than on their own capacity to be decisive.
3. An obsession with data and technique that has become a form of addiction.
4. A widespread misunderstanding about the relational nature of destructive processes in families and institution that leads leaders to assume that toxic forces can be regulated through reasonableness, love, insight, role-modeling, inculcation of values, and striving for consensus.
(See page 12) 
The first point is one I've given a lot of thought to as a parish priest over the past fifteen years. I think it's totally right, but it's also very challenging to live out especially in Christian congregations and for Christian leaders. How do you tend to "the least of these" and value the voices of everyone without letting the most needy and unwell members set the agenda based on their own dependency and weakness?

The fourth point reminds me of one of my very favorite of Friedman's Fables, "The Friendly Forest,"  The story is about a tiger who terrorizes a lamb but all the other animals in the "friendly" forest think they can reason with the tiger. In the last line of the story, one of the "less subtle" animals says that this whole thing is ridiculous: "if you want a tiger and a lamb to live in the same forest you don't try to make them communicate: you cage the bloody tiger!"

Friedman is provocative. I hear a lot of clergy talk being a "non-anxious presence" and I've used that same language. And it definitely is a big part of what Friedman sees leadership to be about, along with being self-differentiated. But his vision for truly capacitated leaders is about something much bolder and more radical, I think. And unfortunately in rather short supply.

1 comment:

  1. "3. An obsession with data and technique that has become a form of addiction."

    That so perfectly describes my life as a public school teacher during the past few years....I think I'll download this book!